High Cholesterol – The Health Risks
60% of adults in the UK have high cholesterol levels
Cholesterol tests are now taken more frequently due to the known risks of having high cholesterol levels. In recent years, there has also been an increase of media coverage about the risks of high cholesterol. The word is getting out and more people are aware of the importance of healthy cholesterol levels, for themselves and their loved ones.
However, more still needs to be done to raise awareness of the risk factors that come with high cholesterol especially as having high cholesterol does not come with any symptoms. Therefore, as a first step, having a cholesterol test is essential for finding out if you are at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the disease of the heart
or circulatory system, including heart attack and stroke.
Heart attack and stroke are the two biggest causes of death in the UK
About Cholesterol – the Good and the Bad
Cholesterol is a fatty like substance which, although it is getting a bit of a bad name for itself, is vital for the normal functioning of our bodies. In fact, every cell in our body needs cholesterol as it forms part of our cell membranes. It also helps make some of our hormones, is needed to make vitamin D and is used by the liver to make bile for digesting fats in the food we eat.
What is important is to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. If you have already had a cholesterol test, then you may have heard of the term LDL and HDL. You may already know one is the ‘good guy’ and one is the ‘bad guy’. Why this reputation?
Our bodies transport cholesterol to the cells that need it through our arteries. To do this it combines cholesterol with proteins making lipoproteins.
There are two types of lipoproteins:
Low Density Lipoproteins – known as LDL or LDL cholesterol.
High Density Lipoproteins – known as HDL or HDL cholesterol.
HDL travels around our blood vessels ‘cleaning up’ excess cholesterol that is not needed by our cells, and from plaque (see below) in our blood vessels. It transports this excess cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down. This is why HDL is also known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. I think of ‘H’ for healthy hero! (or hoover!!)
LDL transports cholesterol through our blood vessels to all the cells that need it. However, excess LDL cholesterol is not returned to our liver and can build up on our artery walls. I think of ‘L’ for lovely but lazy!
This is why LDL is also known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. And indeed, when there is too much of it, it is the ‘bad guy’. Too much LDL can build up in our blood and deposit in the walls of our arteries causing a build up of fatty material called plaque.
This process is known as atherosclerosis – the primary cause for cardiovascular disease. Overtime this build up of plaque continues to narrow and harden blood vessels and reduces the supply of oxygenated blood to different parts of our body. Eventually, it can cause a clot to form.
A common place for a clot to form is in the arteries that provide a blood supply to our heart (coronary arteries), causing a heart attack. Another common place is in the arteries that feed our brain (carotid arteries), causing a stroke.
This is why, it is so important to maintain a healthy cholesterol level.
LDL cholesterol ⇒ atherosclerosis
atherosclerosis ⇒ cardiovascular disease
cardiovascular disease ⇒heart attack and stroke
Further Information – you can find out more about atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease at the NHS Choices website right here
Cholesterol Test – How to Get Yours
Surprisingly, there are no symptoms if you have high cholesterol. Therefore it is a good idea to have a cholesterol test on a regular basis. A cholesterol test is done by a simple blood test that measures the amount of LDL, HDL and triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of dietary fat.
How to get your Cholesterol Levels Tested
If your doctor is concerned about your risk of developing a cardiovascular disease she/he will recommend you have a cholesterol test.
A cholesterol test is also carried out every five years as part of a NHS Health Check. This health check is for all adults between the age of 40 and 74 years old who do not have an existing vascular condition.
Alternatively, you can buy your own home test kit from the high street or online.
You will not experience any symptoms if you have high cholesterol
BE SAFE AND GET A TEST
Recommended Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol levels are measured in units called millimotes per litre of blood. This is usually abbreviated to mmol/L. The total cholesterol level is LDL + HDL. For healthy adults, the government recommends a total cholesterol level of 5 of less.
5.7 is the average total cholesterol level in the UK
This level is a risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease
The recommended level for LDL is 3 or less and for HDL is 1 or more. The risk of cardiovascular disease is particularly high if you have high LDL and low HDL levels.
Further Information – you can find out more about diagnosing cholesterol and cholesterol tests on the NHS Choices website right here
Hopefully you have picked up some helpful information about cholesterol.